And so it begins......
This is the first installment of my very personal story. This is, by no means, all of the story or even a large part of it. But I have to start somewhere.........
It’s time for some raw vulnerability. Without it, I believe I will always run into mental and emotional blocks in life.
My reason for writing this is to allow room for healing; to stop being afraid; to bare my soul in the hopes that someone will read this and say “I thought I was the only one” and so start on her own path to freedom and healing.
I have been reading a book called Shame Lifter by Marilyn Hontz. It was given to me as a gift from Focus on the Family. Although Marilyn and I have lived very different lives, we were both suffocated under the weight of shame – a shame that Jesus came to free us from, but the enemy kept convincing us that the shame is ours to carry, to be smothered by; a shame that means we will never be good enough as long as we live.
I’m taking you back to the 80’s, when I was still married to the father of my first 4 children. We were active members in our local church. What nobody saw was how we struggled in private. I’m not going to say much about him because he too, is a child of God and therefore not mine to judge.
In the 9 years we were married, I never once felt that I was in his heart, never felt that he was in love with me, never felt cherished. Even when he proposed, it was only after I had suggested that we need to figure out what we’re doing in our relationship; that maybe we should break up in we didn’t want to move forward. That was the moment when he proposed. I was shocked because I was expecting a conversation, not a proposal, but I accepted, believing that he couldn’t bear the thought of losing me.
Perhaps in that moment, that is what he was thinking but I’ll never know. A few years later he told our pastor that he felt that I had forced him to marry me, effectively extinguishing any romantic notions I might have told myself about how much he wanted me.
I longed to be noticed, to be loved and protected. I kept hearing how God shelters us in the “shadow of His wing” and that marriage is a representation of the relationship between God and His people. My marriage was no such symbol of love. I was painfully lonely.
I thought that having children would endear me to my husband. Our first child was born on my husband’s birthday! From my hospital bed, I sent my mom off to buy my husband a sweatshirt for his birthday and have it embroidered with the message “I’m Zack’s daddy”. I was sure that such a sweet thoughtful gift would stir up love towards me. He loved the sweatshirt and wore it until it was worn out – but a few years later, he told that same pastor that I had rushed him into having children before he was ready. Again, my fault. Again, extinguishing any romantic notions of any loving thoughts I thought he might have been having towards me.
I began to break down. It happened slowly (though not very slowly) and under the stress of the day to day so I didn’t know I was breaking. I kept trying to get his attention. He wasn’t willing to give it. I was no longer hoping he would love me but just that I would matter enough that he would notice the details of my life.
During my second pregnancy, my husband began renovating our house. I was excited to see how it would look once it was done! The day I went into labour, he wanted to buy the supplies to make the fireplace mantle so we were at the lumber yard. I kept telling him that I needed to go home as I stopped every few minutes to breathe through another contraction. His reply was always that walking is good for me, and we kept hunting for the perfect piece of wood to go above the fireplace. Even the salesman was getting worried for me but we kept walking around the lumber yard until we found what we’d come for. My husband kept asking for my opinion of different pieces of wood but I was in so much pain that I really didn’t care. I just wanted to go home.
Once we got home, he continued working on the fireplace. He had stacked our couches and chairs in the dining area to give him room to work. The only chair for me to sit on was a hard wooden kitchen chair. My contractions were coming closer and closer together. He kept working on the fireplace. Finally, I asked him to get me something more comfortable to sit on but he informed me that everything was stacked and out of the way. I lost my cool and demanded that he put one of the couches down for me. Finally he did and I was able to find a more comfortable position to sit.
Because I had been induced with my first child, I didn’t know what to expect from natural labour so I called the hospital to ask a nurse. She told me that labour could take hours but that I should come to the hospital whenever I feel too uncomfortable to stay at home. When I got off the phone, my husband asked me what the nurse had said so I told him. He looked at his watch and said “Good” and went back to the fireplace. I protested and explained that she had also said that I should go to the hospital whenever I felt I needed to, but he responded with “a few hours” and walked away.
I made my way downstairs to where my parents lived, pausing every couple of minutes due to ongoing contractions. My parents saw how much distress I was in and asked why Brent wasn’t taking me to the hospital yet. I explained what the nurse had said and his response to it and shrugged, in tears. My dad blurted out that if Brent wasn’t going to take me to the hospital then he would, because it was obvious that I needed to go.
I quieted my dad and told him that I would go tell Brent again, that I was sure he would take me (although not really being sure at all). I went back upstairs and told my husband that if he wouldn’t take me to the hospital then my dad would – either way, I had to go NOW. He finally offered to take me and told me “just a minute”. I was relieved! He was going to take care of me!
I went back downstairs and told my parents not to worry because Brent was going to take me to the hospital. My parents then asked me where he was if we were supposed to be leaving right away. I listened for any sound of him upstairs but heard nothing, so I dragged myself back up the stairs and looked around. Nothing. I was at a loss when I confessed to my parents that I didn’t know where he was. They were just as puzzled. We all looked around, calling his name, but couldn’t find him. Finally, my dad went outside and found Brent cleaning out the old wheelbarrow he had been using for concrete. My dad was shocked and angry. My husband’s reply was that the nurse said I had a few hours and the wheelbarrow needed to be cleaned.
My dad offered to clean the wheelbarrow and insisted that I be taken to the hospital immediately.
Our drive was painful but we finally got there. I was rushed in and given a room to finish out my labour and delivery. He was there with me and suddenly I had a strong and painful contraction. I reached out and grabbed the only thing within range – the front pockets of his jeans. I held on and breathed to get through the pain.
He looked down at me and exclaimed “What are you doing??” and grabbed my hands, pulling them off him and pushing them back towards me. I was crushed but had to get through my contraction before I could answer although no words could make their way through my heartbreak and disappointment. What did it look like I was doing? I was in the process of giving birth to his child!
Four hours after my labour had started, our beautiful baby girl was born! Life was good.
About a week later, something was amiss. She seemed to have a cold or some kind of respiratory trouble. I called a doctor to come to our home because I couldn’t get to a doctor and her symptoms were worrying me. The doctor said she was fine but that I should just keep an eye on her. Over the following weeks, she got progressively worse. Her bouts of coughing became more frequent and closer together, then her coughing fits would be followed with her choking. Then her choking fits would happen without her coughing first. Then her choking fits became silent so I wouldn’t even know unless I was looking at her.
All this time I just kept resuscitating her and taking her back to doctors who would assure me she was fine and that her inability to properly clear her airway was just due to her being a newborn and not a real cause for concern. I didn’t believe that but no one would take a closer look at her.
My new routine was to care for my 2 year old son and resuscitate my baby all day until that was my new “normal”. Again, I went back to the doctor. Again he told me she was fine and to just take her home. Again she got worse. That was a Wednesday. By Friday she went into a choking spell and, try as I might, I could not clear her airway. I kept trying, flipping her on her tummy against my leg for delicate back blows then laying her on the floor to give her mouth to mouth. I couldn’t get air into her body and I couldn’t push out the phantom that was bent on choking the life out of her.
I was on the floor trying over and over – back blows, mouth to mouth, yelling at her, back blows, mouth to mouth, yelling at her….. no response. Her colour was getting worse as she lay lifeless on the floor in front of my. I kept looking up at the phone, hoping I could will it to call 911 for me at the same time being sure that if I left her to go make the call, I would come back to a dead baby. I was frantic.
She had been fighting this phantom since she was a week old. I had tried everything within my power to help her but now we were at the end. She was so tiny and fragile. How could I demand that she keep fighting when no one was coming to help us? I scooped up her lifeless little body in my hands and walked on my knees over to the couch where I gently laid her down.
I told her that she didn’t need to keep fighting. I told her she’d done such a good job and she’d been braver than I could have asked for but I knew she was tired now. I told her I wouldn’t ask her to fight any more. I sat back on my feet and looked at my sweet angel who by now had not breathed for several minutes. I honestly had no idea how much time had passed. It felt like a very long time and I knew that her brain could not survive prolonged oxygen deprivation. As all these thoughts were racing through my mind, suddenly another thought came roaring in like a freight train – “NOOOOOOOOO I CAN’T LET YOU DIE!” so I tried again to resuscitate her but to no avail. I put my hands on the couch beside her body and cried out in a shaky voice “Jesus, PLEASE make my baby breathe!”
Suddenly – and I mean IMMEDIATELY – I saw her tiny chest rise. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me so I held my breath and watched carefully. She took another breath! In that moment, the words from Genesis 2:7 popped into my mind “(God) breathed into (Adam’s) nostrils the breath of life” and I knew that God had done it again right there in front of me. I picked up my daughter and made sure she was breathing and responsive, then I called 911. The firemen and ambulance came and they all agreed that she was fine and that I should just take her to the hospital myself if it happened again.
I was so happy and relieved that my baby was still alive but also sure that as much as we’d been given a reprieve, it was time to act. My husband was convinced that the danger had passed and there was no need to go to the hospital that night. I was convinced that if I closed my eyes for a second, I would open them to find that she was gone. I spent that night with my baby girl right in front of my face to make sure I didn’t miss anything.
The next morning, I insisted we take her to the doctor again so we did. As before, the doctor told me that she was fine and that I should just take her home. He did say that if I was still worried about her on Monday (it was Saturday) that I could bring her back to see my regular doctor. His words hit me like a slap in the face. Monday?? By Monday she would be dead. Today was the day she needed to be hospitalized. I burst out crying. Not weary tears, no. I was a gushing fountain of gasping, choking tears and frantic ranting. I recounted to the doctor her journey for the past few weeks (she was 4 weeks old by this time) and told him about calling 911 the night before, told him I hadn’t slept because I was afraid she’d die if I closed my eyes. All the while I was sobbing uncontrollably.
The doctor softened and put his hand on my arm and said “I can see that you’re tired and you need to sleep. How about if we put her in the hospital for the night so you can go home and sleep?”
I didn’t care that he had just insulted me. I didn’t care that he still didn’t believe that she was sick and dying because I had heard him utter those magic words – she was going to be admitted to the hospital!
I caught my breath and nodded, totally unable to speak. I picked up my daughter and my husband and I got in the car and drove to the hospital.
As I was sitting with a nurse answering questions for Celeste’s admission, she suddenly had a very loud, very ugly choking spell. I got her through it and turned back to the nurse who was sitting with a horrified look on her face. “WHAT WAS THAT??” she exclaimed. “THAT is what I’ve been telling doctors about for weeks now! THAT is why we’re here!” I replied.
The nurse’s simple reply gave me such great comfort “You have a very sick baby”
FINALLY!! Someone else saw it and believed me! She would finally get the help she so desperately needed.
The nurses hooked up several different monitors and sat her up in a cuddle seat because every time they laid her down, her oxygen level would drop down and she struggled to breathe. She had a monitor to track the level of oxygen in her blood, a monitor to measure her breathing, a heart monitor as well as an IV in her head to rehydrate her.
It didn’t take long before her alarms started ringing and 5 nurses came running to her bedside. One operated the suction, one watched the monitor screens and the others helped to resuscitate my baby and get her stable again. I stood back and watched, frozen as the tears rolled down my cheeks.
As they were leaving the room, one by one they passed me and each of them paused and looked me in the eye with such deep compassion. They touched my arm gently and asked me “Did you see what we just had to do? How on earth were you able to do this at home?” All I could do was shake my head and mumble “I just didn’t want her to die”
After a few initial choking spells, the nurses had their routine worked out and they assured me that they would take good care of her. I could see they were telling me the truth.
However, I had been on such high alert for so long by that time that I didn’t know how to back down. I needed more assurance. I was exhausted and broken but relieved that my baby was finally in good hands that would give her more than I had been able to.
The nurses told me that I could go home and sleep and come back whenever I was ready, but that I needed to sleep. They were right. I was so grateful for the way they were taking care of me too.
I was almost ready to calm down and go sleep when my husband walked up to me, standing very close, making him tower over me – “You stay here and keep an eye on them” he commanded. My heart sank. I knew I couldn’t leave – no matter how badly I needed some rest, no matter that my 2 year old son was at home – I had to stay.
When I told the nurses I was staying, they got me a bed but were visibly upset that I was not able to go home for a bit of respite after everything that I had been through with my daughter. They were more than capable of taking over for me, at least for a time, but I wasn’t going anywhere.
I slept in her room almost every night. The guilt was piling up on top of my trauma. When I was at the hospital, I felt that I should be home with my son. When I was home with my son, I felt that I should be at the hospital with my daughter. There was no right place for me to be, only wrong places. No peace and rest, only guilt and anguish.
After a month, much of it in ICU care, Celeste was discharged from the hospital. My sweet baby was alive and well. A well experienced pediatrician diagnosed her with a bad case of Pertussis (whooping cough). I also learned that because Pertussis had been all but wiped out prior to this, it wasn’t on anyone’s radar when I showed up with a sick baby. After Celeste’s hospitalization, I learned that there were several more cases of Pertussis in the following weeks, much to everyone’s surprise.
The doctor warned me that, due to the fact that this illness was very hard on Celeste’s lungs, I should expect her to be hospitalized for about a week out of every month for the next year. It sounded a bit overwhelming until I asked him “But she’ll be ok, right?” He assured me she was definitely out of danger but would just need medical support to get her through those expected periods of respiratory illness. His news suddenly didn’t sound bad at all. I smiled and told him that would be no problem at all. I would watch for any difficulties and bring her back. Everything was going to be okay after all.
It was 2 whole months before she showed any signs of cold-like symptoms but my reaction caught me off guard. I rushed to the hospital with her and when they were asking me to describe her situation, I was stammering and stumbling over my words and crying. I remember saying “You said that I should bring her back if she gets sick again! She’s sick again!” I was in full panic mode and they saw it and graciously admitted her as promised.
As I was sitting by her bed, the head nurse on the children’s ward came to see me and asked if we could talk in her office. I followed her and we sat down close to each other. She started “You have done such an amazing job taking care of Celeste. There is no doubt that she wouldn’t have survived if you hadn’t done what you did. You’ve take very good care of her”
I sat and listened, gratefully soaking up her affirmation. Then she continued “After taking such good care of your baby, I have to ask you – Who’s taking care of you?” I was startled by her question and looked up at her, unable to speak right away. Then I started to cry and shook my head. She was so kind. She listened as I cried and explained my marriage and home life, my guilt and anguish. She encouraged me and urged me to find someone to talk to.
Once Celeste got through her week of needing a bit of extra help, we went home and life went on.